Author Topic: Novichok origins  (Read 1120 times)

Offline Glom

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Novichok origins
« on: April 03, 2018, 04:37:22 PM »
So latest news in the Salisbury attack has led into a debate on the application of logic.

The head of Porton Down has said the place the sample was manufactured has not been verified as being in Russia. So this has been lept on by the more conspiracy minded.

Of course, HMG have said that their case is based on more than just the lab work.  Lab work identified the substance which was then coupled with other intelligence to conclude Russia was most likely responsible. 

But attention has been given to earlier statements made by Boris that gave the impression the government's certainty was entirely down to the lab work.  Of course, we know Boris shoots his mouth off like Yosemite Sam with his pistols.

In particular, a month ago, the FCO said this.

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"Analysis by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down made clear that this was a military-grade Novichok nerve agent produced in Russia. Porton Down is OPCW-accredited and designated laboratory"

Now, the most technical reading of that might contradict the latest news, but a slightly less technical reading would interpret "produced in Russia" as referring to the general origin of the product rather than the specific sample using in this crime. This is like calling a Nissan a Japanese car when it was made in Sunderland.

Of course, all this doesn't change the fact what Porton Down have said doesn't suggest it didn't come from Russia, but that line of argument may be a logical fallacy.

So what do you think? Should the conspiracy theorists be crowing that they've got a smoking gun?

(I really hope not of course. We may as well turn the nukes on ourselves if it turns out we led all our allies up the hill for no reason.)

Offline Jason Thompson

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Re: Novichok origins
« Reply #1 on: April 04, 2018, 07:34:15 AM »
My thoughts are that Boris Johnson is an idiot on a par with Donald Trump when it comes to opening his mouth before engaging his brain, and this whole situation is an absurd farce. Both sides have leapt into accusation and denial before actually investigating. I don't doubt the work done at Porton Down to identify it as a Novichok agent. What I fail to understand is why we have leapt straight into accusations of a Russian state-sanctioned assassination attempt and virtually overlooked the second half of the original conclusion which was that it is likely to be either state sanctioned or else somehow the state lost control over its stock of nerve agents and someone got hold of it who shouldn't.

Now we've apparently dismissed an offer of a joint investigation as 'perverse', even though it is the most logical way to reach the truth. To me there seems to be far too little certainty and far too much political manoeuvring. It scares the hell out of me, frankly, that world leaders can basically engage in a 'you did it/no I didn't/yes you did/no I didn't' childish argument with so much at stake. Especially when it gets to the point it is at now, where neither side is willing to accommodate the other. Russia denies it, naturally they're guilty. Russia offers to help investigate, naturally they're trying to obfuscate things further.

And I also find it offensive that major affairs like the Ukraine and Crimea, Russia's gay rights (or lack thereof), and other such things involving the killing and persecution of huge populations draw stern 'you really shouldn't do that, you know' remarks from our government and others, but one apparently unsuccessful assassination attempt on two people hardly anyone had ever heard of before March provokes immediate finger-pointing and diplomatic action on a scale not seen in years or decades. Not to say these two people are not important, but come on, more than whole populations being bombed out of their homes, occupied, or criminalised?

The whole world has some skewed priorities, if you ask me.
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Offline Luke Pemberton

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Re: Novichok origins
« Reply #2 on: April 05, 2018, 06:04:51 AM »
And I also find it offensive that major affairs like the Ukraine and Crimea, Russia's gay rights (or lack thereof), and other such things involving the killing and persecution of huge populations draw stern 'you really shouldn't do that, you know' remarks from our government and others, but one apparently unsuccessful assassination attempt on two people hardly anyone had ever heard of before March provokes immediate finger-pointing and diplomatic action on a scale not seen in years or decades. Not to say these two people are not important, but come on, more than whole populations being bombed out of their homes, occupied, or criminalised?

I agree with you every word, particularly the summary you present about having our prioritises right. I'll offer my  view.

Offering a stronger stance over the Ukraine or Syria doesn't really provide a vote winner or distraction from the mess of Brexit or the other domestic policy issues the UK currently faces. The use of chemical agent on our own soil provides the perfect opportunity to hide a lot of bad news stories and empowers the Murdoch machine to hit overdrive with this 'terrible and dastardly event.'

Further, accusing Russia also provides us with chance to cosy up to our allies and presents a chance for closer links with the US as Trump can issue his own diplomatic sanctions while simultaneously taking the heat off himself over Russia meddling in the election. I can only imagine the diplomacy, but it would be along the lines of, 'Eh Mr President, you want the heat off you, we need a trade deal, how about...?' One could argue that Trump would want distance from the attacks as any support of the UK would be too obvious a ploy, but he also likes to play the 'big man.'

I believe the Conservative Party to be this cynical, particularly with Boris and Gove in the wings. Do they hold much power? Well there is a suggestion that May gave them cabinet positions to have her enemies close to her, but I also believe they hold significant influence in cabinet. She has little control over elements of her Cabinet, and needs to appease those ministers. Boris and Gove are poisonous, and still covet higher power, so use their position of being close to their enemy to maximise their political influence. They know full well they have her over a barrel. She's damned if she does, and damned if she doesn't with Boris and Gove.

Piling pressure on Russia over Syria and Ukraine with anything more than punitive sanction would be a step closer to war. Hence a slap over the wrists for them over their involvement there. The attack in Salisbury, while significant, will soon be forgotten; and the expulsions slowly reversed over time. It won't bring us to war, but has maximum political effect for the Conservatives, both domestically and on the world stage.

So yes, we have our priorities wrong, but it's politics, and it truly is awful when we see the pictures from Syria.
« Last Edit: April 05, 2018, 07:20:50 AM by Luke Pemberton »
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Offline twik

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Re: Novichok origins
« Reply #3 on: April 06, 2018, 11:06:46 AM »
I'm sorry, I couldn't disagree more.
 
The first function of a government should be to protect its own people. Yes, it's great to extend protection to people all over the world, but as history has shown us that's an almost impossible task to perform without making things even worse.

If (stressing that as you say, conclusive evidence hasn't been provided, but we're really in a "trout in the milk" situation) Russia becomes confident that it can send hit squads into western nations to kill people who were originally Russian citizens, do you really think they'll stop there? If they can kill their own dissidents, why not British, American or Canadian citizens who attack them?

Arguing "we can't morally act to stop assassination squads in London, Washington and Ottawa, because we didn't fight hard enough for gay rights in Russia" is mindboggling self-destructive. Does someone have to walk up to Garry Kasparov and blow his brains out in Times Square for this to be a problem?

Offline Jason Thompson

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Re: Novichok origins
« Reply #4 on: April 06, 2018, 11:57:04 AM »
I'm sorry, I couldn't disagree more.

Fair enough. Life would be boring if we all agreed.
 
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The first function of a government should be to protect its own people.

I agree in principle, provided a reasonable definition of 'its own people' can be used. Politicians and governments the world over have used this argument to justify anti-immigration policies, anti-union policies and so on. In this instance I agree that the two victims were 'our own people'.

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If (stressing that as you say, conclusive evidence hasn't been provided, but we're really in a "trout in the milk" situation) Russia becomes confident that it can send hit squads into western nations to kill people who were originally Russian citizens, do you really think they'll stop there?

That would be the slippery slope fallacy. However, my problem with the entire situation is not that action has been taken, it's that we've leapt so quickly into threatening and the language of conflict. The fact remains that most people here have absolutely no clue what really happened (and are still a long way from being convinced Russia is actually behind the attacks, even if they may bear some responsibility if the agent used was in fact from their stocks and they lost control over it), just a lot of politicians poking each other with sticks. Governments protecting their own people should be possible without resorting to the kind of language that makes the populace fear what comes next.

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Arguing "we can't morally act to stop assassination squads in London, Washington and Ottawa, because we didn't fight hard enough for gay rights in Russia" is mindboggling self-destructive.

We're not arguing that. We're arguing for something a bit more conclusive in terms of proof that this was actually a state-sanctioned assassination squad before we start getting into diplomatic tensions that hark back to the bad old days of the cold war.

And just to throw in something that might sound like conspiracy theory woo but actually confuses the hell out of me, but if I was going to arrange an assassination on foreign soil, I probably wouldn't use a nerve agent that effectively has the words 'made in Russia' on it, as the whole argument seems to be saying has actually happened. I'm not saying they didn't do it that way, but it seems odd to me to use a method that can be apparently so easily traced back to the assassin.
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Offline Halcyon Dayz, FCD

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Re: Novichok origins
« Reply #5 on: April 06, 2018, 12:42:47 PM »
I probably wouldn't use a nerve agent that effectively has the words 'made in Russia' on it
See what you did there?

Thing is they have done that before, the point is not just to assassinate someone but to shout it of the roof.
It's intimidation.
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Offline nomuse

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Re: Novichok origins
« Reply #6 on: April 09, 2018, 11:27:39 AM »
I'm mildly amused to see novichok agents still out there. Back about ten years ago made a prop that displayed the chemical or biological agent it had "detected" out of a random list. "NOVICHOK" was one of the few names that was sort of legible spelled out on a 7-segment (not alphanumeric) VFD.

Offline Zakalwe

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Re: Novichok origins
« Reply #7 on: April 09, 2018, 12:00:52 PM »
I probably wouldn't use a nerve agent that effectively has the words 'made in Russia' on it
See what you did there?

Thing is they have done that before, the point is not just to assassinate someone but to shout it of the roof.
It's intimidation.

^^This^^
It's no different to the polonium poisoning of Litvinenko. It sends out a clear message that simultaneously allows Puting to thumb his nose at the international community and tell his enemies that he can get them anywhere at anytime.
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Offline twik

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Re: Novichok origins
« Reply #8 on: April 10, 2018, 10:30:46 AM »
And just to throw in something that might sound like conspiracy theory woo but actually confuses the hell out of me, but if I was going to arrange an assassination on foreign soil, I probably wouldn't use a nerve agent that effectively has the words 'made in Russia' on it, as the whole argument seems to be saying has actually happened. I'm not saying they didn't do it that way, but it seems odd to me to use a method that can be apparently so easily traced back to the assassin.

There's no point in being able to kill your enemies with impunity anywhere, any time, if your enemies never realize this is what's happening. That's the point of "terrorism." To keep people in line with terror so you don't actually have to go out and kill them *all* off right now. This was intended to say to other people who might be, say, interested in co-operating with the Mueller investigation, "We can kill you in a 'safe' country. And not just you, but your family. So keep the mouth shut, right?"